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Posted on in Orthopedics

The “30-Year” Knee Joint Replacement It’s Not for Everyone. Is it for You?

Total knee joint replacement surgery has been performed for about 30 years. Over those years, incremental improvements in materials and designs have raised the expected life of the “new” knees to 10 to 20 years. 

Two developments are causing a noteworthy change in patients and expectations. Where knee replacements had been reserved for patients over 65, because of the limited life of the replacements, now younger, more active patients are seeking relief from pain and limited mobility. Secondly, the FDA has approved a replacement that claims a 30-year lifetime of use.

More Active or More Obese

An active lifestyle is prompting people in their 50s to seek help for worn out knee joints. After all, our body parts have a limited life and the more wear they get from tennis, marathons, or aerobic exercises – the faster they wear out. 

Conversely, the obesity epidemic is creating another pool of younger patients needing total joint replacements. Each additional 20 pounds of weight a person carries puts more than 100 pounds of stress on the knees.

New Materials Open the Way for 30-year Knees

A few years ago, Oxinium was created by oxidizing zirconium, transforming the surface into a ceramic. The new metal was introduced primarily to avoid an allergic reaction that some patients had to other devices with trance amounts of nickel. In time, researchers were struck by Oxinium’s durability – especially when combined in the knee device with new formulations polyethylene.

After testing under laboratory conditions, the Food and Drug Administration approved a manufacturer to label its implant as “good for 30 years of use.”  While this resilience is a huge leap, even the company is careful in its claims.  Its news release states, the implant would “provide wear performance sufficient for 30 years of actual use under typical conditions.”  

In everyday language, that means if you undertake high impact sports that may have caused your original knees to wear out prematurely, the same may happen with these manmade replacements. Truthfully, we won’t know if the long-term promise of the 30-year knee is fulfilled until patients with the knee have had them for 30 years.

Should You Get a 30-Year Knee?

 “Not every patient needs or is best suited for this device,” says McLeod Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Rodney Alan. “For older patients, we have many knee replacement products that are proven highly reliable over time. Younger, more active patients seem the best candidates for the Oxinium Joint. If it last 30 years, we can avoid so-called revision surgery to replace a worn out device – and that saves the patient pain and money.

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Sources include:  McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Wall Street Journal, KENS-San Antonio, Smith & Nephew, Orthopedic Design & Technology, EverydayHealth.com

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